Happy New Year!

Black swan events are supposed to be unexpected, of large magnitude and consequence, and very rare. Perhaps once a decade or once a generation events even. But recent years have seemingly thrown up one black swan event after another that have impacted the world in far reaching and profound ways. The world is still dealing with the aftermath of the financial crisis, Covid-19 and the current impacts from the Russia-Ukraine war, including rampant inflation as well as the humanitarian impacts. 2023 promises no let up in potential for continued volatility and upheaval, with up to half of the world potentially entering a recessionary phase at the time when the globalized world we once knew is starting to close in on itself again. I was pleased to see the back of 2022, but “unprecedented” has become the new normal it seems. Governments no longer have a reliable playbook on which to make policy, needing innovation and action on the fly – which will lead to unexpected and potentially unpleasant outcomes. People no longer have the security and certainty that has been prevalent in many societies for decades. In short, what we know from the past bears little resemblance to our present and future.

Central Asia has been no exception. It has felt the impact of all these events. The violence in Kazakhstan in January 2022 seems an age ago today, yet uncertainty and the potential for violence and geopolitics to come to bear in the region, as internal pressures escalate, remain. The question that hangs over all of the Central Asian republics is how the situation in Ukraine will resolve itself and what that means for each republic in terms of its relationship with its neighbours, and the world, in the future. How the republics ally themselves between each other is one thing, as well as how they handle the complicated relationships with Russia, China and the US/EU. Higher energy prices have increased revenues and benefitted the resource rich nations of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. So too have remittances remained stable for other countries as demand in Russia for migrant labour surges following a major demographic shift in the country as a result of the partial mobilisiation of its youth.

The problem for Central Asia, however, is that its economy is still heavily tied to Russia. If Russia’s economy implodes then the region’s economic resilience will be tested. The instability and insurgency that remains in Afghanistan, bordering the region to the south, will likely have repercussions while the insurgency threat remains high. China’s end of its Zero Covid Policy might open new economic opportunities, but it is not clear that the region is a priority for Beijing that has many other issues and priorities to face up to first. The upsides exist, but the downside risk looks to remain a bigger issue – 2023 looks to be as challenging, maybe more so, than 2022.

In this issue we cover a lot of ground in the region both economically, politically and culturally. I was personally delighted to have been able to interview both Kazakhstan’s new Ambassador to the UK, H.E. Magzhan Ilyassov and former Ambassador Daniel Speckhard who has just return from Ukraine to understand his view of life on the ground and what his charity has been doing to help those who need it most. I was also able to attend the Hertfordshire Press awards at the end of November and meet up with former colleagues and many old friends. And I am thrilled to read of the reports of the Open Eurasia Literary Festival that took place in Melbourne, Australia, on the other side of the world. Congratulations to all this year’s winners and participants.

Please do keep in touch and I look forward to seeing many more of you in person over the year.

Enjoy the issue!

Nick Rowan
Open Central Asia Magazine